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The request stopped Houston Evans short.

Houston banks at Patelco Credit Union. And he’s the son of Valerie Evans, who died one year ago when the Tubbs fire howled onto her family’s ranch alongside Highway 101 in north Santa Rosa, the ranch best known as the home of Angel the Texas longhorn.

Houston was at the Patelco branch on Cleveland Avenue in July when the assistant manager he knew casually, Milton Barker, stepped up.

The banker asked, “Mr. Evans, is there any way that I could get something from your mom, made of metal?”

The look on Houston’s face was roughly the same as if he’d been asked if he’d like to purchase 15 acres on the moon.

Milton Barker assured him that all would be well, but that he could say no more about why he’d made the request.

Houston knew the credit-union man enough to trust him. Days later, Houston took to the branch a piece of jewelry his mother enjoyed.

“My mom had a brooch that she wore on her sweaters,” he told me. “I found it in the ashes of her bedroom after the fire.”

Houston imagined that perhaps the folks at Patelco would place the piece in a frame and give it to his family.

HHHHHH

HE HAD NO IDEA it was Milton Barker’s wife, Suzette, who wanted something that had belonged to Valerie Evans.

Known as Suzette Lombera when she studied at Windsor High, she’s now 32 and a mother of two. She works a support job at the Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital, located across Highway 101 from the remains of the Evans ranch.

For much of the past 16 months, Suzette said straight up, she has been an emotional mess.

“I don’t really like to say it’s because of the fire,” she said. But the Tubbs fire exacerbated her postpartum depression.

In June of 2017, Suzette’s second pregnancy ended abruptly with the birth of a premature baby. Sophia Nevaeh weighed just 3½ pounds and was kept for weeks in Sutter’s neonatal intensive care unit.

“Just not knowing if she would make it was heartbreaking,” Suzette said.

Three months after the Barkers brought Sophia home, the firestorms struck. Flames moved down Trione-Annadel State Park as Suzette and Milton evacuated their home in Bennett Valley with Sophia and her brother, Mackie, then 4.

Clearly empathetic, Suzette was hollowed by the death and destruction. The thought came to her, “I just wish there was something I could do.”

HHHHHH

SHE KNEW OF ANGEL. Though the longhorned cow came through the inferno, her keepers lost Valerie Evans and their home and a dog.

Suzette thought it would be therapeutic to make them something. Why not a sculpture of Angel?

She spoke with friend James Selby, a scrap-metal sculptor in Windsor. He eagerly signed on.

The two of them created a full-sized Texas longhorn. It has a body of wine-barrel hoops, a tail of partially unbraided wire and, as horns, Harley-Davidson handlebars.

What about Valerie Evans’ fire-stained brooch? It adorns the wiry hair on the cow’s head.

Tears flowed when Suzette and James presented the piece to the Evanses at the ranch that they’ll rebuild, and to which Angel will soon return.

By unanimous acclaim, the metal cow was named Hope.

You can reach columnist Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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